How to use search like a pro: 10 tips and tricks for Google and beyond

1. Exact phrase

Exact search

The simplest and most effective way to search for something specific is to use quote marks around a phrase or name to search for those exact words in that exact order. For instance, searching for Joe Bloggs will show results with both Joe and Bloggs but not necessarily placed sequentially. Searching for “Joe Bloggs” will surface only those that specifically have the name Joe Bloggs somewhere on the page. The exact or explicit phrase search is handy for excluding more common but less relevant results.

2. Exclude terms

If an exact phrase doesn’t get you what you need, you can specifically exclude certain words using the minus symbol. A search for “Joe Bloggs” -jeans will find results for Joe Bloggs, but it will exclude those results for the Joe Bloggs brand of jeans.

3. Either OR search

OR search for things that could be one thing or another, but you don’t need both terms to exist on a single page. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian. Default text searches find results with all the words of the query. You can search for one or another term using the OR term, not just all the terms. OR searches can be useful for finding things that you’re not sure which term will be used from a known list.

4. Synonym search

Searching using synonyms helps cover all bases. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian. Sometimes it’s useful to search for a less specific term. If you’re not sure which term will be used, you can use a synonym search.



Searching for plumbing ~university will bring up results for plumbing from colleges and universities, for example.

5. Search within a site

Google site search

Searching with followed by a search term will find results from only Combining explicit search terms makes it even more powerful.

6. The power of the asterisk

Wildcard search

Asterisks work as wildcards within search either to replace a word or letters. Like the blank tile in Scrabble, the asterisk works as a wild card within searches. It can be used in place of a missing word or part of a word, which is useful for completing phrases and when you’re trying to search for a less definite article. A search for architect* will search for an architect, architectural, architecture, architected, architecting, and any other word that starts with an architect.

7. Searching between two values British prime minister 1920. 1950

Searching for something with a qualifier between two ranges is a good way of answering questions. For instance, if you’re looking for the British prime ministers between 1920 and 1950, a search using British prime minister 1920. 1950 will bring up results with dates ranging between 1920 and 1950. That’s your search term, followed by two full stops and a space.

8. Search for a word in the body, title, or URL of a page intitle: search

Sometimes you only want to find text within the URL, body, or title of a page. Using the qualifier inurl: will search just within the url. The qualifier intext: will search within the body, while intitle: will search only within a page title. For example, intitle: review will bring up all the articles with “review” in the page title.

9. Search for related sites

Related search. The related qualifier is useful for finding similar sites. Searching for, for instance, will bring up the websites of other news organizations that Google deems the most similar to the Guardian.

10. Combine them combined search terms

All these search tools can be combined to narrow down or expand searches. While some may be used only rarely, some, such as explicit phrase searches, are useful in almost all cases. As Google and other search engines improve their understanding of the way people naturally type or say search queries, these power tools will likely become less and less useful – at least that’s the goal that search engines are working towards – but that’s certainly not the case at the moment.


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